Can the new Thai Foreign Minister actually speak English?

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 18, 2011

Surapong Towijakchaikul is not somebody to be jealous of for his job right now. The new Thai foreign minister is being criticized from all possible sides, much for him being simply unqualified because he lacks diplomatic background* and he’s just there to help Thaksin getting into more countries again.

And now we have this shocking revelation by Spring News TV reporter Techawat Sukrak (เตชะวัฒน์ สุขรักษ์):

มีเรื่องฮาเมื่อรมต.ตปท.แถลงข่าว ต้องให้จนท.เป็นล่ามแปลเพื่อตอบคำถามต่อสื่อต่างประเทศ ทำเอาสื่อไทยงง!!รมต.ต่างประเทศฟัง-พูดอังกฤษไม่ได้เหรอ

Funny story: During a press conference, the FM [foreign minister] had this staff translating the answer to a question from foreign media, which confused the Thai reporters!! Can’t the foreign minister understand and speak English?!

Tweet by @TOM_SPRINGNEWS at 16:28h, August 17, 2011 – translation by me

Well, can he speak English at all?

First off, his official bio states that he has a Master’s degree and PhD in engineering from Youngstown State University and University of Akron respectively, both located in the US state of Ohio. Second, if Surapong is supposedly not capable of speaking and understanding, how then did he manage to do a whole interview in English with Anasuya Sanyal of Channel News Asia** (which was quite candid by the way)?

It is one thing to have somebody translating, especially if you’re unsure of saying the right words since Surapong is allegedly, you know, not qualified enough to be a diplomat and thus speaking diplomatically. But it is an entirely different thing if somebody in his position being absolutely incapable of speaking and understanding the English language – like German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (you know, the guy who let Thaksin back in) for example, who outright refused to answer a question in English from a BBC reporter right after the last elections in 2009, saying that “since it is common in the United Kingdom to speak English, it is common to speak German here in Germany,” – now that’s top-notch statesmanship right from the get-go…!

*One could argue that the last foreign minister Kasit Piromya has the best background as a former ambassador to Germany and Japan – but we all know better what happened to Thai foreign policy…!

**Anasuya confirmed on Twitter that the interview was entirely conducted in English

h/t to fellow Siam Voices contributor Panuwat Panduprasert

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.